The Most Affordable Online MBA Programs

by Marc Ethier on

Online MBA students never have to visit the campus of Mississippi State, though they are welcome to, says Cindy Smith, director of distance learning

As far north as Mississippi State is south, the University of North Dakota offers an online MBA that is smaller (just 77 total students) and more selective (61% acceptance rate). Its faculty is less experienced in online education (average six years of teaching versus 11 years at MSU), but UND has a much higher retention rate — 95% year to year — and higher average GMAT score (570). At $360 per credit hour and a reported total cost of $13,946, however, it isn’t a heck of a lot more expensive than what MSU offers.

“We really pride ourselves on offering an affordable education for all students,” says Kate Menzies, UND graduate admissions officer and adviser. “That’s really important to us.”

There may be more similarities than differences between the southern and northern programs. Like MSU, UND’s online MBA, ranked No. 29 this year by U.S. News, is on the rise, having placed 31st in 2016. UND also is very white, with just 9% minority students (the school did not provide data for international students), and very male, with women making up just 23.4% of the student population. Both schools’ average age of new admits is 30, and both send newly minted MBAs back into the world with roughly the same amount of debt: $24,504 for MSU, $25,261 for UND. Both schools are AACSB-accredited; both have the same application requirements (GMAT or GRE, an essay, and three letters of recommendation), and both programs can be completed entirely online.

UND has a higher three-year graduation rate (63% versus 48%) and shorter window for completion (seven years versus eight); students there also take less time to finish: one-and-a-half years versus two. But beginning in the fall of 2017, UND will have a larger credit load — 43 total credits, thanks to the addition of several new courses to the curriculum.

KEEPING OPERATIONAL COSTS LOW

Kate Menzies, graduate admissions officer and adviser at the University of North Dakota

Menzies says UND is able to keep its online MBA costs so low by using a different technology than most online programs. It is technically a synchronous program in which distance and campus-based student attend classes live, with distance students logging into classes and participating via an Adobe Connect system, which basically operates like Skype. “This way, campus students and distance students get to not only interact with each other, but get to interact with the professors more,” Menzies says. “It’s just a little more of an interactive an engaging environment.”

UND charges distance students in-state tuition regardless of residency, and the school further cuts costs by employing faculty with terminal degrees in their field “who are very highly qualified to teach their courses” but who are unlikely to price themselves out of the market. The school also keeps class sizes small (average 18 students, maximum 30), which has the added benefit of better engaging students in the curriculum, Menzies says.

“You really get that individualized attention from the professor,” she tells Poets&Quants.

LOOKING FOR QUANTS

UND’s online program  has “very much a managerial MBA focus” with a course load weighted toward the quant side, Menzies says. Students are encouraged to take courses from its Master in Public Administration program, supplementing their electives with health administration courses, for example, or social entrepreneurship courses. It boils down to this: The program is easily tailored to students’ interests. “We’re looking for students who really are willing to engage with the curriculum and who have a skill set that allows them to excel in our quantitative courses,” Menzies says. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA, she points out.

How else does UND distinguish itself from the hundreds of online options students could pursue? Engagement. “We pride ourselves on having really interactive connections in the classroom,” Menzies says. “You think about online programs, and most students think of, ‘OK, I’m on my own, I’m working at my own pace on my computer and I will never actually get to see my professor or my classmates.’ We’ve kind of flipped it a little bit.”

While online MBA students have no requirements to come to the UND campus, “if they are in town and want to, they are welcome to do so,” Menzies says.

A NEW CURRICULUM IN THE FALL OF 2017

Before UND’s program begins, students are urged to “familiarize themselves” with prerequisite classes in statistics, accounting, finance, and economics. Advisors are on han to help with program tailoring and other adjustments, Menzies says. Once underway, students take one course per week, typically from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Central time — “we found that that time works best for students from all time zones in the United States,” Menzies says — so students can take classes after work. As with most online programs, UND’s students are already mostly employed, though the school did not provide to U.S. News the actual percentage of employed students.

The program has no credit minimum per semester, so students can take as many courses in a given semester as they wish, depending on workload or class schedule. The program has classes year-round, in fall, spring, and summer, Menzies says. Among the offerings are Managerial Finance, Financial Reporting and Decision Making, Business Intelligence, and Strategic Supply Chain Management. The capstone, Advanced Strategic Management, is a case method course involving strategy evaluation that “culminates all the knowledge learned in the program.”

Additionally, starting in the fall of 2017, UND’s online program will have new classes in their lineup, “to give students some skills that they’ll need for the workforce that we didn’t have in our old program,” Menzies says. Among them: Econometrics, Leadership & Ethics, and Executive Skills. The new program is 43 total credits that focuses on four modules: Executive Management, Business Analytics, Financial & Economics Analysis, and Strategy. The curricular overhaul includes the introduction of concentrations in International Business (requiring a study-abroad trip to Norway) and Social Entrepreneurship.

“We feel that all these courses combined together will definitely give students the tools to succeed and set themselves apart in the workplace,” Menzies says.

(See the following pages for a complete list of the top 100-plus online MBA programs according to U.S. News and their total cost, cost per credit hour, and other metrics.)

The University of North Dakota online MBA, ranked No. 29 by U.S. News, is one of the cheapest in that ranking’s top 100, costing just $360 per credit hour for a total of $13,946

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